A woman reclined on a wide sofa interrupts a moment of quiet reflection to gaze up at the viewer. Twin figures, hands poised, delicately slice food on invisible plates with focused attention. The subjects of Wangari Mathenge’s paintings, frequently women, are in no particular rush. They lounge, they wait, they linger, they connect. With seemingly little effort, they manage to extricate themselves from the bustling world to carve out private spaces. Once there, they assert themselves by holding still and stopping time. But make no mistake, the aura of quiet that surrounds Mathenge’s women should not be mistaken for passivity. These women are self-possessed, even defiant. Look at their posture. Bending forward with elbows on knees or leaning back, these women take up space. Their expressions seem to say, “Here I am. I have nothing to prove.”
The first time I saw Mathenge’s work - her meandering queue of miniature bathers in Stand Up And Be Counted and the solitary reclined woman in Irreducible Grace - I was struck by the sense of leisure her paintings evoked. Here were black women, whole and intact, captured in ordinary moments. Here were black women exercising their agency to care for and celebrate themselves, feeling joy regardless, perhaps in spite of, any personal sorrow. -Natalie Baszile, author of Queen Sugar.
In this current body of work, Wangari Mathenge, draws her inspiration from “The Danger of a Single Story,” a 2009 Ted Talk delivered by the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. In this vein, Mathenge takes as her subject complex human beings and situations, focusing her attention on those liminal moments that are rarely distinguished or registered but are essential to the narration of an unabridged existence.
Wangari Mathenge was born in Nairobi, Kenya and currently resides in Chicago, Illinois where she is attending the School of the Art Institute’s Painting and Drawing MFA program.
Aura of Quiet is the artist’s first solo show with the gallery.